The World Today for October 16, 2018

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NEED TO KNOW

NIGERIA

Magic Snakes and Rag Pickers

When $100,000 in state exam fees disappeared from a Nigerian government office, the clerk accused of embezzling it came up with a creative excuse.

“She claimed that a magical snake had slithered into the safe and eaten the money,” Matthew Page, an expert on the West African country, told NPR.

Much has been written about Nigeria and Boko Haram, the Islamic State-affiliated militant group that launched an insurgency challenging the authority of government leaders in the capital of Abuja.

But fewer outsiders know why Boko Haram would launch a mini-civil war in Africa’s most populous and richest country in terms of GDP, thanks to its oil reserves.

The answer, at least in part, is corruption.

Transparency International lists Nigeria as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, ranking it 148 out of 180 nations. It only fares better than failed or struggling states like Afghanistan, Venezuela and Libya.

Local newspapers are filled with stories on corruption and it’s always a hot topic on the streets of Lagos and Abuja.

Corruption has a steep price. It sucks money away from prudent public investments, like roads and schools, that pay dividends years into the future. And it represents a lack of governance and planning that leaves the country vulnerable to shocks that nobody can control.

When floods recently hit the country and wiped out harvests of 100,000 farmers, as Al Jazeera reported, the agricultural minister publicly announced that rice shortages “could” result in a food emergency, especially because Nigeria bans rice imports.

Some observers wonder why the government was unprepared, saying officials are worried more about enriching themselves than, say, building levees.

The country’s presidential election in February doesn’t inspire hope for a turnaround either.

President Muhammadu Buhari is a former military dictator who won office in 2015 after promising to destroy Boko Haram. He made headway on that pledge but British bank HSBC has said he’s stalled on economic reforms, due to his perceived reluctance to investigate his allies.

Meanwhile, his opponent, Atiku Abubakar, has been accused of money laundering in a 2010 US Senate report, the Economist noted.

Those backgrounds might have little influence on the vote, however, again because of corruption.

“Nigerian society and political behavior at all levels usually is shaped by patronage and clientage networks,” wrote the Council on Foreign Relations. “Clients usually vote as their patrons wish, and nearly everybody is both a patron and a client, from the business and political elites to rag pickers at the Lagos dump.”

Crooked politicians, crooked officials and crooked businesses lead even rational voters to become crooked, too.

WANT TO KNOW

AUSTRALIA

Slouching Toward Jerusalem

Australia is considering recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and shifting its embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the potential shift in policy in a phone conversation between the two leaders Monday, CNN reported, citing a readout of the call from Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office.

At a press conference in Canberra Tuesday, Morrison said, “No decision has been made in regarding the recognition of the capital or the movement of an embassy.” However, he said his government is “open-minded” about the potential change and he would confer with his cabinet and other world leaders over the next few months.

Following US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem in December, the surprise announcement from Morrison prompted an immediate backlash, Reuters reported, noting the Sydney Morning Herald’s characterization of the maneuver as “unprincipled and craven.”

Palestine’s embassy in Australia called Morrison’s announcement “deeply disturbing.” Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, was reportedly considering putting a pending trade deal on hold over the issue, an action its trade minister denied.

SYRIA

Deadlines, Red Lines

Militants fighting to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to withdraw from Idlib before midnight Sunday, missing the deadline for the creation of a demilitarized zone that would be patrolled by Russian and Turkish forces and avert a full-scale Syrian offensive.

The failure could undermine the deal, again raising the specter of a humanitarian disaster for the estimated three million civilians of Idlib, the UK’s Independent newspaper reported.

“Our armed forces are ready around Idlib to eradicate terrorism if the Idlib agreement is not implemented,” Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, said Monday.

The deal followed a massive troop build-up in the area by the Assad regime and diplomatic pressure from both the United Nations and Turkey – which fears that a full-scale assault would create a redoubled refugee crisis on its border.

Its fate remains uncertain, as the extremist group viewed as the biggest obstacle to its implementation, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), issued an ambiguous statement Sunday evening suggesting that it might abide by its terms – but declining to hand over its weapons.

KOREAN PENINSULA

Words Will Never Hurt Me

Taking heed of the children’s rhyme, North and South Korea and the United Nations Command sat down to talk about putting away their sticks and stones Tuesday in the first official discussions of demilitarizing the border.

The two Koreas agreed during last month’s summit in Pyongyang to partner with the UNC to halt military exercises, institute a no-fly zone near their border and gradually remove landmines and guard posts within the DMZ, Reuters reported.

At a closed-door meeting in the border village of Panmunjom Tuesday, colonel-level military officials from each side discussed logistics for measures like the removal of 11 guard posts within a 1 km radius of the Military Demarcation Line by the end of this year – an early step outlined in the pact.

On Monday, high-level talks between North and South resulted in a host of agreements, including a groundbreaking ceremony this year on an ambitious project to connect their railways and roads, CBS reported. Still, many remain skeptical the North will live up to its promise to give up its nuclear program, and the associated sanctions could stymie those plans.

DISCOVERIES

Aliens and Spikes

Astronomers have encountered a setback in their search for life in our solar system.

A new study in Nature Geoscience revealed that Jupiter’s moon Europa, a potential target in the search for alien life, appears to have a lot tall, icy spikes on its surface that would prevent spacecraft landings, reported Gizmodo.

Scientists said the spikes – known as penitentes – reach heights of up to 50 feet and grow around 25 feet from each other.

Earth has its fair share of penitentes in high-altitude regions near the tropics, like the Atacama Desert in Chile.

The terrestrial spikes, however, range between three to 16 feet, unlike the alien ones that probably thrive on Europa.

Scientists believe that the Jovian moon might host alien life due to the presence of a subsurface ocean there.

Between 2022 and 2025, NASA plans to put a spacecraft in the moon’s orbit to analyze it.

Still, the spikes are located in the equatorial region of the moon, which may not be the best place to search for evidence of life, according to another study.

It’s only a matter of time until a probe penetrates the frosty crust and explores the alien waters.

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